‘Tackling the class divide at third level’

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Sir, – Olive Byrne, UCC’s access officer, points out that “if reading scores from a local primary [school] are below average, that’s where the targeting needs to happen” (Peter McGuire, “Mind the gap: Tackling the class divide at third level”, Education, March 6th).

Here in the National College of Ireland, we believe that early intervention and partnership with parents are the answers to closing the class divide at third level. If young people from poorer areas are to succeed in third-level education, they need to begin school with the language, literacy and numeracy skills required for success in education. Some 80 per cent of brain development occurs between the ages of nought and three. By age three, most of the words used by a child come from their parents’ vocabulary – and the average number of words per sentence and the duration of a conversation reflect the parents’ speech patterns. By the time they are four years old, children from poorer areas will have heard an incredible 30 million words fewer than other children. They start school with a vocabulary half the size of their classmates. This disadvantage can inhibit engagement with school, and can continue to impact on education into later life.

At National College of Ireland, we developed the Early Learning Initiative to address this challenge, employing best practice of early years’ intervention in the northeast inner city of Dublin. Ten years ago, our Parent Child Home Programme started work with 10 families in the area. We now work with 150 families in the area. Our home visitors, who are from the local area, visit parents of pre-school children, encouraging conversation and play, building the foundation for literacy and numeracy, as well as a greater understanding and use of emotional language.

Our work has grown over the past 10 years from pre-school through numeracy and literacy at primary level to “Discover University” at secondary level.

To close the class divide at third level, we must start by closing the gap pre-school. – Yours, etc,

Dr JOSEPHINE BLEACH,

Director,

Early Learning Initiative,

National College of Ireland,

Mayor Street, IFSC, Dublin1.

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